Question: I’ve been working with my 5-month-old mini-Labradoodle on the “stay” cue, and he just will not be still for more than a few seconds. How can I move forward with this part of his training?
Answer: The first thing that pops into my head when I hear this question is your dog may be just a tad too young to learn this command. The basic barometer to begin obedience training is “around six months.” The principal here is a puppy is still too immature at this point to focus. And this particular cue requires a fair amount of focus, which is why this is the very last obedience command I teach.
Your puppy has to get a certain amount of “puppyness” out of his system first. Occasionally, a puppy will be ready to tackle this one at 5 months, but more commonly, they may be closer to 7 or 8 months. Especially with your breed. Labrador retrievers can stay immature for quite an extended time. So it really just depends on your dog. I think it’s important to not rush this process.
Last week we talked about just getting your dog to stay in one spot for 30 seconds. The beginning training scenario looks like this: You tell Max “stay,” showing him the hand signal (which is your hand in the “halt” position), you step away from him, keeping your eye on the clock, and as he nears the 30-second mark, you’re already approaching him with a treat, which you put in his mouth when he reaches 30 seconds, along with “good boy, stay!”
Once your puppy demonstrates he can stay in one spot for 30 seconds three or four times, you’re probably ready to try for 1 minute. It’s important to mention that brief lessons with a positive outcome (his being rewarded) are always the best. In other words, don’t make your lessons last too long.
As I mentioned last week, your dog should be excellent at the “down” cue before you start on stay. Down requires its own level of discipline to begin with. When you’re conducting the training for this cue, instead of standing in one spot while Max is in a “down/stay,” pace back and forth a little bit. Watching him while you pace back and forth teaches him to train his eyes on you, and you become a visual anchor.
Later, he won’t have the security of seeing you, but this is where we start. Change the location in your house often for this training, and keep it indoors for right now. His familiar environment with few distractions is where you want to start at first. At some point, conduct this training in a room big enough for you to walk in a circle around him as he stays.
Your dog is going to break. It goes with the territory. Try to be on time with a “no!” or an “ahh!” when he inevitably does this. Then calmly take him back to his spot, and start over.
Once your dog will stay in the down position for 1 minute, and do it reliably numerous times, now you’re getting somewhere.
The next milestone is 2 minutes. If Max has stayed in the down position in one spot for 1 minute at least four times in one day, he’s probably ready for a 2-minute stay. Four successful times in one day is the basic target, however, you can’t practice this too many times.
The idea is to advance Max’s time 1 minute each day. You can generally be assured if he performs the task four times in a day, he’s ready for the next increment in time. This is important: Only advance his time one minute each day. I would caution against jumping the gun with his time. You want to build this incrementally. This is how you will really build this particular cue in a rock solid fashion. And just because he does great at 5 minutes, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to jump him to 9. Patience is always our best tool training our dog, and, if you think about it, theoretically after 30 days your dog will stay in one spot for 30 minutes.